Limitation Drives Innovation: A Sukkot Message

Give children everything, and you give them nothing. 

In a world where endless information and the world’s leading experts on a myriad of topics are literally a quick click away, it is easy to assume that unbounded learning environments are critical to both creativity and academic rigor. 

In fact, the exact opposite is true. As Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” It is limitation—not openness—that forces the rigorous, collaborative thinking that leads to groundbreaking innovation. 

Consider a first grade engineering challenge in which students are asked to create a free-standing structure sturdy enough to hold an egg. Moderately challenging, maybe. Now consider the same challenge with the following constraints: first graders have to work in groups of four; they can only use a roll of tape, ten straws, five pieces of string, and three paper clips; the structure has to be at least seven cm tall; and, they have only twelve minutes to complete the task. I saw this design challenge happen in one of our classrooms last week, and the mental sweat was palpable. 

The lead educator at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco talks about the notion of “creative constraints.” In the museum’s Maker Space, students select design challenges—an invention to freeze time, a way to save their school after it’s flooded in Jell-O, a cage for the moon—and they are given a “mystery challenge box” with a handful of materials. They must solve the design challenge using only those materials. According to research out of the dSchool at Stanford, constraints are essential for sophisticated design thinking; they push students to think about the purpose of the invention and the possibilities for innovation. At the Children’s Creativity Museum this comes to pass: young engineers’ mystery box solutions are elegant, innovative and sophisticated. 

Similarly, Sukkot’s creative constraints yield much of the holiday’s meaning.  Building a sukkah is not an open, boundless challenge. Quite the contrary: in our sukkah, we must be able to see the stars and feel the rain and our sukkah must receive more shade than sun. A sukkah must be made to withstand an ordinary wind but it cannot rest against an existing wall. We move from our permanent homes—equipped, for many of us, with every modern convenience imaginable—into the sukkah, a transient, primal dwelling. There we eat our meals, reconnect with friends and family, and study Torah. There, we return to the sense of the infinite possibility. Stripped of so much that we have convinced ourselves defines us, we imagine what we truly could be. 

In the classroom, limitations lead to rigorous, innovative thinking. In the sukkah, too, limitations force us out of our comfort zones, and we find ourselves in a celebratory, aspirational, sacred space where we are more free to recognize our core values. The “limitations” of sukkah dwelling allow us the space to ask the key questions Rabbi Jonathan Sacks identifies for the high holidays: “Did we use [time] to serve a purpose or did we merely exist? Did we use it for ourselves or did we share time with others? Did we bring blessing into a life other than our own?” In other words, are we living consciously? Are we living with purpose?

This year, as I walk the halls of our school, I hope to see many students blessed with the limitations that propel their intellectual, ethical, and spiritual growth. And may we all be blessed with a Sukkot full of the meaning and purpose that constraints can bring. 

Chag Samaech! 

Creativity Cracks the Aging Code

As we age, creativity often peaks, and our need to create soars: Georgia O’Keeffe, for instance, did some of her best work in her later years, and Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was in her 70s. Likewise, Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her 60s when she began to write her “Little House on the Prairie” books.

Besides the satisfaction of giving in to the urge to create, more and more research is pointing to the value of taking up a new interest, hobby or craft as you age — learning an instrument, challenging yourself with word games and crossword puzzles, seeking out unique experiences. Not only can these creative activities help you stay active and interested in life, but they also have potent mental and physical effects, too, which researchers are only now beginning to explore.

What they’ve learned so far: We need the charge of doing something creative to feel good mentally, particularly as the decades pass. According to neuroscientist Gregory Berns, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and author of “Satisfaction: Sensation Seeking, Novelty, and the Science of Finding True Fulfillment” (Henry Holt, 2005), that’s because the level of the brain chemical dopamine, which brings on a natural high, declines as we age. By seeking out novel experiences, we can trigger dopamine surges and regain that feeling of satisfaction.

George Washington University psychiatrist Gene Cohen, author of “The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain” (Basic Books, 2005) and an expert on the health benefits of creativity for older adults, says that trying new things and being creative also promotes brain plasticity (flexibility and growth) and even prompts our brains to rewire, which may fend off dementia and help to maintain health. “When you challenge the brain, your brain cells sprout new connections, called dendrites,” he explains, “and new contact points, called synapses, that improve brain communication.”

Cohen has the data to prove that creativity has a powerful anti-aging effect on the mind and body: In a two-year study of healthy older adults (over age 65) sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, he found that those who engaged in painting, writing, poetry, jewelry making or singing in a choir had better overall physical health, made fewer visits to the doctor, used less medication and had fewer health problems than a control group that didn’t participate in cultural programs. The “artsy” group also had better morale and reported less loneliness thanks to a feeling of self-control and mastery, and from maintaining their social engagements. “This study proves that you can’t have a real health-promotion program for the elderly without an art component,” he said.

Another benefit of creative activities: They’re sustainable.

“Art has been in the soul of the species since [the time of] cave people, and its benefits make us keep coming back to it,” Cohen said. So while you may not stick to an exercise program, you may stick to an art program — which will not only give you a psychological boost, but also a brain boost.

Creative pursuits can also help us relax and distract us from stressful situations — and the better we are at relieving stress, the longer we’ll live and the healthier we’ll be. Harvard’s Dr. Herbert Benson reports that rhythmic and repetitive activities such as knitting and sewing can reduce blood pressure, heart rate and other physical measures of stress. And Harvard’s Dr. George Vaillant, who followed 824 people from their teens to old age for over 50 years, found that creativity is one of the pursuits that makes retirement rewarding and satisfying.

The ‘If Not Now, When?’ Phenomenon

Cohen says that as we enter our 40s and 50s, our brains start firing on all cylinders. We begin using both sides of our brain more (the logical and analytical left side and the artistic right side), which stimulates us to be more creative — and being more creative prompts us to integrate both left- and right-brain capabilities in a happy cycle of artistic energy. As an added bonus, we become more confident and comfortable with ourselves as we age, and so we may cast off the need to conform: After 40, we want to showcase our true selves through the way we speak, act, dress and the things we do. And we may shed the “should have” way of living we previously endorsed, embracing instead the life we really want to live.

“There is a lovely interlude in middle age, when we haven’t lost the mental nimbleness of youth and yet we’ve gained wisdom,” said Sue Shellenbarger, author of “The Breaking Point: How Female Midlife Crisis Is Transforming Today’s Women” (Henry Holt, 2004). This is when creativity can blossom with age, she notes, and become a means for validating who we are now.

Cohen agrees that many people in mid- to late life go through a psychological “liberation” phase characterized by an increasing urge and feeling of freedom to do the things they’ve always wanted to do. They hear an inner voice that asks them “If not now, when?” and “Why not? What can they do to me?” that gives them the courage and confidence to try something new and self-expressive.

Boosting Your Creativity

So where and how do you start to put more creative oomph in your life? “Creativity is a form of problem-solving,” explains Tera Leigh, an artist and author of “How To Be Creative If You Never Thought You Could” (North Light, 2003), so it can apply to almost any situation in life. What’s more, small changes in your attitude can have a big impact on your creative output:

• Take your creative urges seriously. Shellenbarger encourages thinking about what truly is going to make you happy in old age. “Go toward what gives you joy and allot time to pursue these things — an hour or two a week, at least, and hopefully more.”

• Find your creative personality. Relax; you don’t have to search for it. “Your creative personality is already inside of you,” Leigh said. “You don’t have to do anything except invite it to come out and play.” That said, some people are Martha Stewart types who like detail-oriented arts, like quilting, beading or decorative painting, while others may have a passion for plunging in and making a mess, so they might prefer ceramics, cooking or scrapbooking. Experiment to find which creative pursuits best suit your style.

• Start thinking of new ways to do old things. Rearrange your furniture, throw a new ingredient in an old recipe or learn a new dance step. Or “challenge yourself to come up with five new ways to do something at work that bores you now,” Leigh advised. “These are simple ways to train yourself to think of life in a new way. The more you think outside the box, the more it will become a habit.”

• Create an artist’s space for yourself. Even if it’s just a couple of boxes for your art materials that you hide on a shelf or under the bed, it’s important to honor your artistic urges by claiming a space to express them, Leigh said.

• Take a class or join a group. One of the major benefits of creativity is that there are lots of classes to enhance it and they offer lots of opportunities for socializing — both important, since aging studies indicate lifelong learning and having a strong social network are critical to a happy, healthy old age.

Nancy Monson is the author of “Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul With Sewing, Painting, and Other Pastimes” (Hats Off Books, 2005).

We were intended by God — we’re not afterthoughts

The magician succeeds by misdirection — look here and you will not notice everything that I am doing with my left hand.

Part of Christopher Hitchens’ magic in his essay is misdirection: He would have us ignore ourselves. How do human beings know? If we are, as scientific materialists tell us, nothing more than an accident of ancient chemistry, haphazardly evolved with no thought, no design, no intelligence behind the universe, then how do our minds draw correct conclusions about the origin of things? In Hitchens’ article he makes numerous assertions about the way the world began and will end and what God would or would not do, without wondering if it is wonderful that he can know this at all.

Minds evolved to survive on the savannah do not need to invent, much less master, nuclear physics. “I am awesomely, wonderfully made” sings the psalmist. The addition of evolutionary mechanisms to our stock of knowledge makes that declaration more potent, not less.

Evolution tells us that random mutations followed by adaptations to environment account for who we are. If we are adapted to fit an ecological niche, and our minds are as random and limited as our legs, ears and eyes, why can we understand truths about the world? Even more powerfully, where would free will enter this story? Products of heredity and environment do not get free will: No one picks his or her environment or his or her genes, so where do we get this glorious ability to choose?

It is possible that we are determined and all of our conclusions are limited or simple illusions. I cannot argue against the certainty that people are robots. But if you believe that what we know about the world has some relationship to truth, and that we are free agents, then you are driven to the conclusion that materialism may be too simple a conclusion. Perhaps God has something to do with this remarkable pageant.

The improbability of human existence can be seen from two different directions. Hitchens writes that given the ages Earth was without us, the close brush we had with extinction and the universe’s constant threat to wipe out life on our planet, we are clearly a wild card in the deck, products of happenstance.

There is another way to view the same set of facts: Given how long the Earth prepared for our appearance, however, (the midrash actually talks about how God set everything like a table for the guest of honor) and the unlikelihood of our being here and surviving, we could equally argue it is clear that we were intended. Once again, what Hitchens writes as conclusive — we were afterthoughts — can be seen in a very different light.

Rabbi David Wolpe and Christopher Hitchens will debate religion and faith on Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills as part of the Celebration of Jewish Books

Physicist Robert Jastrow famously remarked, “At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Faith is not a cowering born of fear, to be discarded when a vaccine proves more efficacious than a prayer. Two thousand years ago the rabbis taught us that faith from love is more powerful and lasting than faith from fear. They understood the uncertainty of reward and punishment in this world, teaching explicitly that there is no reward for mitzvot in this world (B.T. kidd. 39b).

There are religious people who are credulous and narrow. To set up these straw men is one way of disputing, but there are religious people who both contribute to and learn from the intellectual advances in the world. For we believe that God intends us to learn, to grow, to discover and to create. These things are not contradicted by a tradition that pictures God as a creator; rather creativity is one of the ways of imitateo Dei — becoming more like God in our conduct in this world.

Hitchens does not mention that people who are religious give more to charity, have more stable lives, are less addicted to drugs and alcohol and form more cohesive communities. None of this proves religion is true, of course. Things can be false and still good for us.

What it suggests, however, is that faith is far more complex than a simple ancient illusion. Only a narrow antagonism assumes religion can be replaced with the Hubble telescope.

Disdain is an ugly quality on either side of the debate. Humility and goodness are a prerequisite if one wants not merely to score points but to touch souls. Belief is not a static illusion to be knocked down at the introduction of a new scientific hypothesis or discovery. Faith is an orientation of soul, a posture toward God’s universe that finds expression in many religious traditions. God is not a magic dispenser of favors in the sky but a creator whose presence is a challenge to create goodness and a call to humility.

Those who value religious traditions should value thoughtful opposition, because it forces us to re-examine our own lives. In the end, however, I believe that questions honestly asked lead us back to the Source of all.

David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple.

An inconvenient voice

Moses buries him.

Literally – he opens up the earth, and Korah and his followers are swallowed alive.

The rabbis of the Midrash were more graceful. They only buried him literarily and morally – projecting upon him every evil motive and base intention.

For the rabbis, Korah becomes the personification of manipulative demagoguery, personal greed, vicious envy of power and position, exploitation, arrogance and rebelliousness; a rebel he is.

After the people Israel are condemned to wander the desert 40 years, Korah raises a revolt against Moses and Aaron: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3).

It is too easy to label Korah evil and dismiss his claims. There is nothing in the pshat, the simple reading of the biblical text, to castigate Korah as the embodiment of evil. In fact, it is suspicious how ready everyone is to get rid of him. What are we covering up? What truth does Korah know?

At Mount Sinai, God proclaimed, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Korah asks: If we are all a kingdom of priests, what is the special prerogative of one who proclaims himself “spiritual leader”? Instructing the building of the Mishkan shrine, God announced, “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).

Korah wonders: If God already dwells among the people, who needs intermediaries and functionaries to reach God? In Leviticus, God commanded: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

Korah points out: Holiness, the quality we share with God, is within our reach. Not an elite, but holiness is within us all. Moses himself offered: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them” (Numbers 11:29).

Korah responds: Shouldn’t this be our goal? Not to elevate another Moses, but to elevate the entire community to his prophetic vision?

Korah is a rebel, no doubt. But he is a holy rebel. He rebels in obedience to God. And Moses’ impulse to bury him represents a serious failure of leadership.

A healthy community needs holy dissent. A healthy community needs voices demanding a renewed commitment to ideals. A healthy community needs to be reminded that its moral compromises are just that, compromises – the best we could do under the circumstances, not the best we could do. Korah is an irritant, a source of aggravation, a challenge to authority and to accepted practice. It’s no wonder we want to bury him. But a living community of conscience and spirit needs a Korah.

Another great spiritual dissident, Martin Buber, taught that a spiritual community swings between poles of “religion” and “religiosity.” “Religiosity” refers to those rare ecstatic moments when the Absolute breaks into our experience and reorients our vision and values. These are moments of passion and insight. But they are fleeting. “Religion” is born when these moments are captured, organized and preserved in symbols, texts and rites. At the heart of spiritual life lives this tension: As “religion” settles into holy tradition, it loses touch with these original moments of ecstasy and revelation. It loses its creative energy. Religion needs religiosity.

“Religion is true so long as it is creative,” Buber wrote, “but it is creative so long as religiosity is able to imbue [it] with new and incandescent meaning. Once religious rites and dogmas have become so rigid that religiosity cannot move them, religion becomes uncreative and therefore untrue.”

One of the wonders of Jewish history is our continuing capacity to welcome and absorb holy dissent. We are a living community, held together by deep bonds of family and communal solidarity, and not just a church bound by dogma. Therefore, there has always been room to embrace dissent and rebellion without destroying the Jewish people. Prophets challenged Priests, and they were included in the Bible. The rabbis disagreed about almost everything, and the Talmud proclaimed: “These and these are the words of the living God.”

Mystics and Chasidim challenged rabbinical authorities, and their voices were added to the symphony of Jewish wisdom. The greatest Jewish rebellion in Modernity was Zionism. And today, we are all Zionists. We are a creative people because the voice of Korah lives.

We are committed to teach our children the Torah of Moses – Jewish continuity, faithfulness to the Jewish past, loyalty to tradition and ancestors. Their curriculum must also include the Torah of Korah – holy rebellion, spiritual dissent.

Alongside continuity, let us celebrate the creative overturning and reinvention of Jewish life and vision.

That, too, is our holy tradition.

Ed Feinstein is senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. He serves on the faculty of the Ziegler Rabbinical School of American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism), the Wexner Heritage Foundation, the Whizen Center for the Jewish Family and the Synagogue 3000 initiative.

Books: Creative minds at work — business, science and the arts

“The Nature of Creative Development” by Jonathan S. Feinstein (Stanford Business Books, $34.95)

With meteoric technological advances presenting many businesses with crises verging on the existential, there is a growing need for nimble minds able to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Given this environment, it is fitting that Jonathan Feinstein, a professor at the Yale School of Management, should come out with “The Nature of Creative Development,” a book that attempts to model the trajectory of creativity within individuals.

That Feinstein teaches at Yale is also fitting because the School of Management is an institution that, since its inception in 1976, has staked out a unique niche in the business school firmament — it grooms leaders for careers in the nonprofit and public sectors as well as the for-profit sphere. More recently, the Yale School of Management has pioneered new shifts in curriculum at business schools, reconfiguring the traditional core classes like accounting, finance and marketing into cross-disciplinary perspectives such as courses on the customer, the employee and the innovator.

An economist by training, Feinstein has spent years researching the creative process and not simply that of business leaders like Walt Disney and McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, who receive case studies in the book. Rather, he focuses on the imaginative evolution of writers like Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner and scientists like Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin.

Feinstein also includes case studies of lesser-known figures, doctoral students at top-rated university programs in English and American literature, neuroscience and mathematics, three fields that lend themselves to creative exploration.

Quite obviously, this 572-page tome does not fit into the now-common staples of the business literature like Michael Lewis’ journalistic forays into Wall Street and professional sports, get-rich-quick guides or textbooks filled with mathematical formulas and diagrams. It is none of these. Just as it is neither a series of light, biographical sketches, nor the latest book du jour about madness, substance abuse and genius.

Instead, it is a treatise grounded in case studies that touches upon biographical elements only insofar as they relate to an artist’s “distinctive” approach in developing his or her creative pursuits.

Feinstein writes in the academic vein with the obligatory “I propose to show” statements at the beginning of each chapter as well as the occasional awkward neologism like “revisioning” and “nonstationarity.”

Once the reader gets beyond such conventions of the academy, the book provides a thoughtful theoretical framework for assessing creativity. In the process, Feinstein debunks many of the standard assumptions that people make about this most mysterious of realms.

For instance, it is commonly thought that creative artists have fits of inspiration. That might be true, but what is less discussed is that invariably such inspiration comes after years, even decades, of a fermenting or nurturing passion for a subject, characterized matter-of-factly by Feinstein as a “creative interest.” Feinstein posits that creative interests percolate in an “intermediate” zone, narrower than a broad field like neuroscience, yet of a greater depth and richness than a hobby or an interest simply in the subject of neurons.

In recent years, some economists who have ventured outside of their area of expertise have met with controversy. For instance, Cornell economist Michael Waldman used a statistical analysis to claim bizarrely that autism may derive from excessive TV viewing, as opposed to genetics.

Unlike Waldman, Feinstein wisely steers away from an economic or quantitative analysis here, since creative artists develop their passions organically in a manner that defies self-interest. It is only later, when older, that an artist might make a “strategic” decision in which he may try consciously to reshape his career by using his creative interests.

Many artists do not succeed initially or do not have their breakthrough for some time.

Faulkner, for instance, encountered rejection from publishers after submitting his early novel, “Flags in the Dust.”

Feinstein describes how the future Nobel laureate then delved more deeply into his creative interests, particularly a nostalgic yearning for his native South, a region suffused with dignity and moral decay. This return to the past, often a fecund terrain for writers, paved the way for Faulkner’s later success with novels like “The Sound and the Fury.”

Counter to the notion that artists are obsessed with one subject, Feinstein also shows that they almost always have multiple interests and that they often work on two projects simultaneously. Faulkner switched back and forth between “Father Abraham” and “Flags in the Dust.” Einstein spent years incubating both his theories of relativity and the electrodynamics of moving bodies.

Similarly, Hannah Arendt, the philosopher famous for the often-misunderstood phrase, “the banality of evil,” took a passion for German romanticism and merged it with abiding curiosities about her Jewish identity and the origin of Nazism, all of which are reflected to a degree in her seminal work on totalitarianism.

Perhaps most significantly, Feinstein dispels the myth that creativity happens in a vacuum.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not simply that an intellectual like Arendt was transformed by the Holocaust. It is that even a genius like Einstein was heavily influenced by his predecessors, and not only those in physics. Characteristic of many original thinkers, Einstein was drawn to the work of someone in an entirely different field, philosopher David Hume, who wrote about space and time. No other physicist of Einstein’s era had such “divergent” interests, Feinstein writes.

Einstein combined these epistemological concerns with his long-held thought experiment about traveling on a beam of light to come up with the general theory of relativity. In so doing, he made a connection or metaphorical leap between seemingly unrelated fields, a pattern shared by nearly all creative artists.

Although the book deals with painters, writers and scientists of all religious backgrounds, Feinstein says that in researching creativity he found that Arendt’s work encouraged him to move beyond the Torah, which he had studied as a youth, and explore Jewish intellectual history of a more modern nature.

The kreme de la kreme of kosher kooking mix it up

When Michaela Rosenthal threw some leftover gefilte fish into her potato knish recipe, she never imagined it might be worth $20,000.

“I didn’t want to waste the one piece I had left,” said the Woodland Hills housewife and mother of two grown children.

It turned out to be a good move for Rosenthal, whose whitefish and potato knishes in lemon horseradish sauce took one of two first-place spots at the Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western semifinal at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa earlier this month.

The veteran of cooking challenges competed against nine other California amateur chefs at the last of three regional contests sponsored by the nation’s largest processed kosher food manufacturer.

She and co-winner Andrea Bloom of Long Beach, who earned accolades from the judges for her savory pea and fennel soup, will fly to New York in February to compete in the finals for a $20,000 grand prize package, including a GE Profile kitchen and cash.

The first-ever national kosher cook-off is intended to demonstrate to consumers the flexibility, speed and convenience of kosher cooking, while showcasing the Manischewitz label.

“When people think of kosher, they think of a slow process, like briskets,” said David Rossi, Manischewitz vice president of marketing. “We wanted to break that mold and give our core Jewish consumers new ideas about how to use our products.”

Thirty recipes were selected from more than 1,000 entries to compete in semifinals in New Jersey, Florida and Costa Mesa this fall. To qualify, recipes had to be original, kosher, limited to eight ingredients, including at least one Manischewitz product, and preparable in one hour or less. A panel of food experts, including Cooking Light magazine’s executive chef, Billy Strynkowski, selected the semifinalists.

Maintaining Manischewitz’s strict standards of kashrut for the multivenue event was no small task for the Secaucus, N.J.-based company.

“A lot goes on behind the scenes in a kosher cook-off,” Rossi said. “We essentially set up 10 kosher kitchens in the ballroom.”

“All stages of preparation for the event and the actual event itself were in accordance with traditional Jewish law,” said Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who supervises kashrut for Manischewitz.

Cook-off co-sponsor GE provided 10 stove-top ovens that were kashered and transported cross-country for the semifinals. New utensils and cookware were cleansed in a mikvah and labeled dairy, meat or pareve, and all ingredients were purchased and supervised by local mashgichim. Judges tasted the dairy offerings first and then the pareve and meat ones.

Inventiveness was on the menu, with offerings ranging from modern twists on traditional favorites, like almond milk-infused simcha sweet potato soup served up by Redondo Beach’s Terry Gladstone, to Mexican-influenced dishes, such as Los Angeles resident Ellen Burr’s “zesty Mexi chicken and matzah ball soup.” Organizers and judges got a literal and figurative kick out of the local zest.

“I love the spirit of the contestants and the creativity we’re seeing,” said Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the R.A.B. Food Group, which owns Manischewitz. “We’re seeing different flavors out here than we saw in other parts of the country, more heat, more jalape?os. ‘Zesty Mexi chicken soup,’ you don’t see that in New York.”

Another south-of-the border-inspiration was Lowell Bernstein’s “matzah-males,” a creative take on traditional tamales. The education consultant and only male competitor developed the recipe after mastering Mexican cooking, because he was looking for something “bready” to eat at Passover.

“I substitute matzah meal for corn meal and wrap it in a banana peel, instead of a corn husk. It’s glatt kosher and kosher for Passover. It’s where a matzah ball and a taco meet.”

Bernstein’s creativity was not lost on the judges.

“Tamales made of matzah is close to brilliant,” said OCR Magazines publisher Chris Schulz.

Joining Schulz on the panel was an eclectic group of foodies and nonfoodies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, including cookbook author and Jewish Journal contributor Judy Bart Kancigor. Some, like Cooking Light magazine’s Kyle Crowner, had limited experience with kosher cuisine but were impressed.

“This food is much lighter for the most part,” Crowner said, noting the consumer trend toward flavor without added calories. The contest was further proof that kosher cooking has become mainstream, she added.

While contestants said they had been making their recipes long before they knew of the cook-off, some admitted having tweaked their ingredients to feature more Manischewitz products.

“After I saw the ad for the contest, I added the lemon horseradish sauce,” Rosenthal said. “It went ‘click’ and all fit together. I’ll be serving it with the sauce from now on.”

Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western Semifinal Winning Recipes:

Michaela Rosenthal’s Whitefish and Potato Knish

2/3 cup instant mashed potatoes
2/3 cup boiling water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 can (2.8 ounces) french-fried onions
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 jar (24 ounces) Manischewitz whitefish, drained and patted dry
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 box (17.03 ounces) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 teaspoons Manischewitz fish seasoning
8 teaspoons Manischewitz creamy horseradish sauce with lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a large, rimless cookie sheet with parchment paper or grease with butter. Place instant potatoes in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and stir to combine.

Measure two teaspoons of the melted butter and set aside. Add remaining butter to potatoes and mix well. Stir in fried onions and parsley.

Mash fish and add to potato mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Remove both pieces of puff pastry onto a floured board. Unfold and cut along natural folds to form six equal rectangles. Remove two rectangles for another use. With a floured rolling pin, roll remaining four rectangles slightly to flatten.

Spoon one-quarter of potato-fish mixture onto each of the four rectangles and level to within half inch of the edges. Fold edges of dough and roll each piece into a log (like a jellyroll). Pinch seam lightly to seal. Trim unfilled dough ends.

A friend remembers culture booster John Rauch

“When you looked in those deep blue eyes you saw a man with a burning vision,” reminisced Israeli composer Ofer Ben-Amots. He was referring to John Rauch, the founder of The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, whose recent death at the age of 75 is a blow to the Los Angeles Jewish cultural scene.

John’s name is not familiar to the general public. He shunned the spotlight, insisting it stay focused on the hundreds of artists he loved, nurtured and supported for more than 16 years.

“He was my rabbi, my biggest fan,” said actor Stephen Macht. “I know he felt the same way about all his artists and friends. He sat or stood in the aisles clapping and laughing and crying during all of our performances.”

When Chaim Potok learned about the work of the Center he wrote a letter to Rauch: “Dear Mr. Rauch, the program of the Center seems to me to be wide and deep and eminently worthwhile with the potential for making a significant contribution to the culture of our world. How may I be of help to you?”

Rauch, a Viennese born banker and attorney founded the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity along with his wife Ruth because he believed that creating opportunities for promising, talented Jewish artists (composers, playwrights, filmmakers, painters, etc.) to work together with Jewish scholars would spark an explosion of Jewish cultural expression. Rauch was legendary for thousands of hand-written notes of encouragement to artists written between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. from his booth in Jan’s Coffee Shop on Beverly Boulevard.

The Center began in 1991 with a pilot program called, The Creative Artists Institute. Jewish artists from Canada, Russia and the United States were given fellowships to fly to Jerusalem to participate in workshops covering everything from “Talmudic playwriting” to lectures on the erotic poetry of the 12th Century Sephardic Rabbis.

Another ambitious Center program is the Jewish Arts Festival (Philadelphia, Santa Fe and the San Diego Festival, now in its 13th year.) These Festivals provide precious performance opportunities for established and emerging Jewish artists whose work is often outside the mainstream of popular culture. For the 1992 Philadelphia Festival, the Rauches sought out and invited a fairly unknown composer to perform his work. Today, the music of Grammy-nominated Osvaldo Golijov is performed to sold-out houses at Disney Concert Hall and Lincoln Center. Golijov writes, “John’s tireless and loving work is what gives Jewish artists of our time the possibility to reach their full potential. We are all blessed by him.”

“His vision was to create tikkun olam” says Yale Strom, award-winning filmmaker (“The Last Klezmer”) whom the Center helped secure funding for his projects through grants and commissions. “John had the vision and tenacity to take me from a street musician to where I am today. I can honestly say that John had a major hand in my success, because he encouraged me and never wavered in his belief of what I could achieve.”

John Rauch is survived by his wife, Ruth; sons, Danny and Mark; and six grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, 6399 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 305, Los Angeles, CA. 90048


Barbara “Bobbi” Asimow died Aug. 22 of cancer at 63.

Bobbi was born in Brooklyn in 1943 and came to Los Angeles as a teenager, attending Fairfax High School. She received an master’s in psychology from San Francisco State and an MBA from the University of Judaism. For the past 22 years, she worked for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as a professional fundraiser. She directed the Metropolitan Region and, for the last 12 years, the Women’s Campaign. She was a legend in the Women’s Campaign, raising more than $12 million a year for Jewish causes; supervising a devoted staff; and mobilizing an army of dedicated volunteers. She was one of the most respected professionals at the Federation.

In her honor, an endowment will be established, within the Jewish Community Foundation, that will fund the Bobbi Asimow Award for the best Jewish communal worker of the year. This award will recognize the person who best exemplifies Bobbi’s spirit; leadership, teamwork, dedication, love of Judaism, and a deep concern for those in need.

She is survived by her husband, Michael; sons, Ian Lennard, Daniel (LeAnn Bischoff), and Paul (Colette Caggiano); daughters, Hillary (Peter Blum) and Courtney (Craig Broscow) Lennard; sister-in-law, Myra Bennett; brother-in-law, Steven; former husband Colin Lennard; and seven grandchildren.

In her memory, donations can be sent to the Women’s Campaign of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 750, Los Angeles, CA 90048

I fell in love with Bobbi Asimow the first time we met. I had just come to Los Angeles from the East Coast, was brand new to our professional field and a stranger here. Bobbi flashed her famous contagious smile and welcomed me with open arms.

It didn’t matter to Bobbi that she was a senior pro and I was young and inexperienced, or that she was a top fundraiser and I was working with college students. That day, for the first time, I knew that I had made the right career choice, because Bobbi became my mentor. In our short exchange, she modeled the Jewish values that I spent years leaning with astounding beauty, grace and passion.

Over the years that followed I watched Bobbi develop hundreds of community leaders. In her quiet way, she helped shape much of the professional landscape of Jewish Los Angeles.

How many of us went to Bobbi when we needed advice, a shoulder to cry on, or to admit mistakes? How many times did she look deep into our eyes with both love and wisdom and guide us? How often did we then get back on our feet and aspire to be even half as talented a professional as Bobbi?

To Tell the Truth

Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised, tucked into a secret room in the dark corridors of Hogwarts, allows the person who looks into it to see what they most desire to be. There seems to be a similar notion in the world of online dating.

A computer becomes a tool to create a “new and improved” version of yourself.

Short people become “not overly tall,” shy people become “pensive and thoughtful,” unemployed becomes “self-employed,” and living with the folks becomes “family oriented and saving for the future.” Delusional becomes creative. And dating reaches some desperate lows.

A little embellishment here and there isn’t so bad — creativity and a sense of humor are always great things. But there are just certain things that you should never lie about.

1. Physical attributes.
How many times have you opened the door to find a person 4 inches lower to the earth than what they had told you? One person I agreed to meet told me he was 5-foot-6 — exactly my height — so I was a bit annoyed when, even wearing lip-flops, I turned out to be a good 2 inches taller than him.

“My eyes are only blue with certain outfits” is actually a buyable lie. But height is pretty much set in stone once you exit the teens.

Then, of course, there is the touchy subject of weight. Most people probably post their wishful driver’s license weight, thinking at least they have “proof” in writing.

One guy admitted to me that although his profile said he was 170 he was more like 190, and honesty is a good thing, right? So how was he to explain the additional 45 pounds that followed him to my door on our first date? Did he think that I just wasn’t going to notice, or believe that he went on a crazy pre-date jitters eating binge that made 45 pounds show up overnight?

2. Pictures
There are those online who are honest and upfront enough to post recent and un-Photoshopped, untouched up, non-photo shoot, actually-looks-like-me pictures. And then there are those who are not.

I’ve had too many dates start with a smile and confusion as I have an inner dialogue: That’s who I’ve been talking to? Did I remember to ask him if his photos were recent? How fast can I eat this ice cream and leave without getting brain freeze?

3. Age
Like it or not we were all born on a certain day of a certain year, and that (along with your height) is set in stone. The people who have lied to me about their age all have their own reasons. Usually it’s the younger guys who make themselves a few years older so that they will show up in my search preferences. Then three or four dates down the road they give me the, “Oh, by the way….”

One guy who was already four years older then me lied and made himself even older! When I asked him why, he said that he looked older anyway so he changed his age to match what people usually said. Excuse me? I mean I’ve been told oodles of times that I have a baby face, but you don’t see me telling people that I’m 300 months old to somehow get that infantile sense.

4. Personal Habits
I had one man tell me that he was a nonsmoker, though four conversations later he divulged that he did smoke, just not cigarettes. Then another told me he was a nonsmoker, to later go into detail that he was actually just “working on trying to start convincing himself that he should really begin to seriously think about” quitting. Or some other equally far-fetched story that left me rolling my eyes and politely declining plans to meet.

5. Odds and Ends Details
One of my personal favorite stories was a man who told me that he had never been in a serious relationship before, so one could understand my confusion when during our first date he mentioned his exes. When I finally asked him what he meant, he said that since he wasn’t with them anymore it just didn’t count. Oh, if only the world worked that way.

The bottom line is just don’t do it. Do you really think people aren’t going to notice those few inches, those extra pounds that cloud of smoke around your head? What do you expect will happen when you start a relationship by completely misrepresenting yourself?

Most of the men I’ve confronted about it just got mad, hoping that I would “give this a chance.” Give what a chance? The delusional version of yourself that you created in your own Mirror of Erised? I don’t think so. The next upgrade that online dating needs is a giant red stamp saying liar that a person can vote to place over your profile, warning the next innocent online dater of what is really going on.

Caroline Cobrin is a writer living in Van Nuys and can be reached at


Shlub to Hero: Film Sketches Gehry Life

“He starts out with that,” says Barry Diller, alluding to a squiggle-like drawing in the new documentary, “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” and “he ends up with this,” pointing to a model of the InterActive Corp. (IAC) Building, currently under construction in Manhattan. Although made completely of glass, a material that likes to be flat, Gehry has molded the glass walls to resemble a row of sailboats billowing in the wind.

Even to the architect’s detractors — and there are many — buildings like the IAC offer something new and unexpected, even if a lot of looking is needed sometimes to wrap one’s mind around these edifices. In short, the IAC Building aspires to be a work of architecture that is simultaneously and unapologetically a work of art.

There’s an implicit question in the comments of Diller, the chairman of Expedia and Gehry’s client for the IAC Building: How did that blankety-blank squiggle turn into a really good building?

The film, a rare departure into documentary by Sidney Pollack, director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa,” assays the mystery of Gehry, an outwardly aw-shucks guy, who regularly produces some of the world’s most aggressive and attention-getting buildings.

While it is interesting to hear Gehry, 77, describe his formative influences — building blocks during childhood, the images of fish, the architecture of Finnish master Alvar Aalto — this kind of museum-docent talk does not bring us close to the core of Gehry’s creativity. Pollack’s film is strongest when filling in the human, rather than theoretical, background.

The real question here is: How did this lower-middle-class Jew from Toronto become the most celebrated architect in the world, and one of the rare people in the profession, outside of Frank Lloyd Wright, to become a household name? (What other architect is well-known enough to be spoofed on “The Simpsons”?)

Pollack, with his skill in developing character, locates the Freudian threads in Gehry’s life story. A Canadian in Southern California, the young Gehry, then known as Goldberg, struggled in architecture school, believing himself victimized by anti-Semitism in a largely all-WASP profession.

He has the outsider’s simultaneous rejection of, and reverence for, authority, here symbolized by the architectural profession, with its weighty baggage of uptight, exclusionary, backward-looking rules. The young Gehry wonders why architecture must be so authoritarian and rule-bound, as opposed to something akin to the delight he experienced as a child, building imaginary cities on the floor of his aunt’s apartment.

Gehry’s creative solution — his psychoanalytic victory — was to embrace the delight of free-form design, while making sure that his buildings met the needs of his clients. His freedom in designing what appear to be purely sculptural objects that subsequently win rapturous praise must make him the envy of all architects who secretly wish they could find such willing clients. Gehry seems to embody the myth of the artist-hero, a symbol of personal attainment and untrammeled freedom of expression.

Yet self-doubt remains. On the eve of his greatest popular triumph, the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, five years ago, the architect recalls walking around the spectacular complex, shortly to become the most photographed and discussed building of the past 50 years, asking himself, “What have I done?” It is the most touching moment in the film.

That kind of vulnerability and introspection makes “Sketches of Frank Gehry” at times resemble a Woody Allen movie. The plotline certainly sounds a lot like Allen: A sad sack, Jewish shlub who feels excluded from the country club set of architects, turns out to be the designer of amazing buildings that turn the world of architecture on its ear. Meanwhile, the hero, in all innocence, says things like, “Gee, did I really do that?”

Adding to the Allen-like texture of the film is a series of celebrity talking heads — Diller, ex-Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, actor Dennis Hopper, rock musician Bob Geldof, ex-talent agency director Michael Ovitz, artist Julian Schnabel, the late architect Philip Johnson — each expressing his admiration for cher maitre.

And in the archetypally Allen moment, we meet Gehry’s psychoanalyst of 35 years, who acknowledges with a coy smile that “Frank has made me famous,” while adding that he refuses services to other architects seeking to emulate Gehry’s inner transformation. (Question for Gideon Kanner: Is there a statute of limitations on physician confidentiality?)

This enjoyable, undemanding film from the hand of a master director holds no terrors for nonarchitects and others who feel flummoxed by the mystique and technical complexity of the profession. This very much reflects the attitude of Gehry, who seems intent on puncturing a certain kind of architectural snobbery.

What the film does not do is help us understand the process through which a scribbled drawing turns into a finished building. For all the accessibility of Gehry the man, Gehry the creative personality remains a mystery.

The Hebrascope: Signs of the Jewdiac

(April 21-May 20)
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Barbra Streisand

During this birthday period, it makes sense to expect things to be all about you. Sadly, friends and family aren’t so sensitive to your needs. The trick is to divide your expectations in half and you’ll enjoy yourself twice as much. Family and friends aren’t trying to steal your thunder; they’re only human and thus likely to want some attention for themselves. Generally, the stars wouldn’t suggest tucking yourself into a protective cocoon for a little healing and rejuvenating. This week is different. Spend an afternoon in your own world, watching your own lame TV shows, reading magazines, eating popcorn in bed and generally isolating yourself from other people. You will emerge anew, with perhaps a few popcorn kernels in your hair, but otherwise refreshed.

(May 21 — June 20)
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Barry Levinson

Gemini loves to socialize on the job, especially now. The math goes something like this: One hour on a work project, 20 minutes discussing last night’s game in the break room, two hours in a meeting, half an hour debating whether or not the temp has been surgically enhanced. Here’s the thing, in order to ever make headway in terms of your career, you may have to keep your nose to the grindstone for awhile instead of in other people’s business or a particularly fascinating article. Self-employed Geminis should consider holding a social gathering, attending a trade show or throwing a gallery exhibit to expose your work to a wider audience.

(June 21-July 20)
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Sydney Pollack

All those big ideas floating around in your keppe just need a little faith, hope and cash. That’s easy for your horoscope to say, but perhaps hard to muster. The stars say otherwise, but advise you to think things through carefully before investing time and money. A burst of confidence and luck will galvanize your efforts, just be careful to ponder every possible outcome before taking any leaps. It may be tedious, but will certainly be useful. Saturday, a casual lunch with friends or family may reach “My Dinner With Andre” proportions. Expect stimulating conversations and don’t cram too many plans into your day so that you can fully enjoy the interaction without having to check your watch.

(July 21 — August 21)

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Monica Lewinsky

If there’s a burst in the real estate bubble, that doesn’t matter much to Leo right now. An investment in a first home or condo is advised, according to celestial influences. Leos who already own property might think about doing some improvements this week. As for long time homeowners, it’s been years of looking at that monthly mortgage like it’s the boogeyman, scrimping and saving and being conscientious of every little splurge. Finally, the end is in sight as that home may be almost paid off. Look for socializing to ramp up from May 3-29, when Venus (the planet of love) visits impulsive Aries in your ninth house of ideas. You will not only be attracted to new people, but to new ideas.

(August 22-September 22)
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Adam Sandler

Traveling, or even just a rough daily commute, is beginning to wear on you, grinding you down both spiritually and physically. This is a good time to find a workout buddy. You are far less likely to miss that personal training session if it’s also a fun hour of chatting and even good-natured whining about your evil trainer and her evil squats. What’s more, if you’ve pre-paid, the guilt factor will also provide an incentive to get you to the gym, yoga studio or duo Pilates session. Think about it. What better way to counteract the stress of being trapped on planes or in automobiles than by simply moving your body? Strengthen a friendship while you strengthen your muscles and make even better use of your time.

(September 23-October 22)
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Michael Douglas

Partnerships are big for Libra this week. Whether it’s a professional partnership that’s moving ahead, or the announcement of an engagement or even an impending cohabitation, the stars have your back if you are teaming up in any significant way. Collaboration is favored up until May 29. Tuesday, some confusion could arise involving a love affair. It may feel lasting and permanent, but your horoscope says this small romantic blip will be all cleared up by Wednesday.

(October 23-November 22)
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Jonas Salk

People like people who like them. It’s such a simple concept that Dale Carnegie would be rolling his eyes. Still, it’s something we often forget. This week, folks will be looking to you for validation and approval. It doesn’t take much, like the old saying goes, a handful of peanuts and a pat on the back. It costs you nothing to shell out a few compliments to those around you who look up to you, and in the end it creates much good will. A meaningful conversation could mark the end of this week, as could especially poignant interactions with those in your circle who are younger than you are.

(November 23-December 20)
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Harpo Marx

Heads up to the Sagittarius worker: you will be walking into what feels like an ambush at work. Be armed with patience and flexibility. Check all your facts and figures when it comes to paperwork. Employ all of your teamwork skills and be ready to tackle tasks using creativity. By midweek, things will cool off at work just in time for a romantic slump to come to an end, as Venus moves into Aries on Wednesday. Pay special attention to your hygiene, floss, wax, get those roots done, bleach the moustache, trim the bangs and don’t be afraid to splurge on at least one big luxury item. Don’t feel guilty about buying yourself something you’ve been wanting. Your horoscope says it’s OK.

(December 21-January 19)
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Dave Attell

Envy and irritability — they aren’t your friends but they seem to be tagging along everywhere you go this week, leading to feelings of frustration. Instead of plotting your revenge on the people who are annoying you the most, dig down deep for some compassion. At the very least, lay low and avoid any altercations you may regret later. A partner or family member may seem indifferent to practical matters that concern you. Instead of presenting a lecture complete with PowerPoint presentation on all of the flaws in their thinking (or lack thereof), remember that the quality of this relationship is more important to you than being right.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18)
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Ted Koppell

It may be tempting to jump into a new relationship, as passion intensifies this week. Try to slow your pace and protect any financial assets. You may not be Trump with a pre-nuptial agreement the size of “War and Peace,” but we can all be taken advantage of when our heart is in charge. Look forward to community celebration midweek. Also, you may feel overwhelmed now just thinking of all your friends and family scattered throughout the world. How do you keep in touch? Dedicate at least an hour this week and roll some calls. Once you get in the habit of keeping in touch, it will seem less daunting and ultimately rewarding.

(February 19-March 20)
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Josh Groban

This week opens like a scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” There may be lots of shouting and betrayal. The whole situations will be high drama with plenty of unnerving interactions. The resolution of this drama could be ruthless, but it will at least be swift, coming to a resolution by midweek, when uplifting astrological patterns are in your favor. Relatives and friends support you, spontaneous outbursts of fun attract you, and you may even be in for a streak of luck. Curious Pisces may wish to dabble in gossip, but you would do better to plan for an overseas trip that will satisfy your curiosity more deeply and with less trash talking.

(March 21-April 20)
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Matthew Broderick

It sounds like a conundrum, but it’s just crazy enough to work. Cooperate with others this week and you will stand out as an individual. Your ability to facilitate teamwork and put your own ego aside will be noticed and appreciated. The only bitter taste in your otherwise sweet week is an outstanding debt — either a credit card or mortgage payment that’s overdue and may cause stress with a partner or family member. Take care of the debt so that extra charges don’t start piling up — and know that financial freedom is on the horizon as an unexpected check is likely to come in just when you need it.

The Legacy of a Folk Hero

As fate would have it, back in 1961, while at Columbia Records making my third folk music album, I invited my friend, Bob Dylan, to play harmonica on the LP. It was I who introduced Dylan to John Hammond. The influential Columbia Records executive produced albums for legendary jazz artists, among them Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman.

At this point, Hammond was turning the spotlight on folk music at Columbia, signing Pete Seeger and myself; the Clancy Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel were to come. Dylan has remained with Columbia for more than 40 years, certainly a remarkable partnership.

Bob and I had an unusual bond. We were both folk singers, but as friends, each knew the other had a weakness for the music of Buddy Holly. I was from Texas and knew Buddy, so Bob and I had lots to talk about. Our other passion was this new musical adventure.

Folk music came with lots of “structure,” both musical and moral. There was plenty of gospel music — which accounts for the early evidence of Christian musical influence noted by writer Andrew Muchin. Our heroes in folk were Woody Guthrie and Seeger. And, as Dylan’s autobiography, “Chronicles,” points out, we were armed with Woody and Pete’s “take no prisoners” ethic:

1 — Tell it like it is.

2 — Use few if any production frills.

3 — Be a “stand-up-on-your-own” artist.

“Artist” is the word. After interpreting traditional music and its connection to gospel, bluegrass and country music, Dylan and others of our acquaintance in New York City’s Greenwich Village began to create contemporary “new folk.” Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson, Phil Ochs, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joni Mitchell and the rest of us threw in our two cents, as well. The most successful of these was Dylan, acoustic or electric.

Dylan’s work was both spellbinding and consequential. He helped to inspire a generation to march into the South in the name of civil rights. Many young men listened to his words and then burned their draft cards, putting themselves at some risk.

The term “generation gap” was born, fueled by the rift within families. Draft-age males left home and fled to Canada to avoid going as soldiers to a foreign war that they believed our nation was fighting without provocation.

Dylan asked moral questions that had never before been asked in popular music, turning his smoldering gaze on congressmen, senators, warlords, lawmen, professors — in other words, the establishment.

With so direct a message and so revolutionary a reach, Dylan rattled cages. And, he laid down the gauntlet to these citizens of the future to dismiss the easy answers of the past.

“Don’t trust anyone over 30” not only entered the vernacular; it also became words to live by. Dylan was gifted with the courage and skill to ask profound questions and the ability, through his popular music, to get others to hear those questions.

And it seemed proper, even inevitable, to fans and admirers that Dylan the philosopher, the voice of a generation, also would become Dylan the leader. It seemed like the natural progression for those whose consciousness was so recently raised.

They wanted the questioner to answer the questions. They summoned Dylan to attend their marches, write articles and, verily, to run for president. Dylan did not see things that way. He envisioned no role for himself along those lines. Besides, Dylan had a young wife and a stepdaughter — and soon would add his own sons (and eventually another daughter) to a burgeoning family.

But what he preferred not to be doesn’t diminish what he was. Dylan’s great creativity, strength and resolve — his artistic powers — were never wasted; his opportunities never lost. He spoke to our souls with every bit as much depth as the ancient philosophers.

Nearly three generations after his celebrity burned so brightly, the essence of his ongoing musical contribution still shines strongly, though perhaps more sporadically, and sometimes more ironically, more wistfully. He’s still doing concert tours; he writes books; and he remains a subject of public fascination, as the spate of articles, biographies and documentaries demonstrate.

I don’t see him fading from musical prominence any more than Frank Sinatra became irrelevant after his own early glory period. And the ongoing Dylan legacy was never just about music, but also about social justice.

He has never ceased to be a spiritual and musical seeker. And thankfully, here in 5766 and 2005, Dylan and his muse are alive and well.

We can be proud that he was so well grounded in Judaism, as well as folk music tradition. Both have served him well. And (I believe) he has served both traditions faithfully in return.

Carolyn Hester, a leading performer in the ’60s folk-music scene, has, like Bob Dylan, continued to write, perform and record music. With her husband and musical collaborator, Dave Blume, the Los Angeles resident also has raised two daughters and managed Cafe Danssa, a longtime Israeli folk-dancing venue.


How to make a seder child’s play

For parents of squirmy kids, a Passover seder can seem longer than the 40 years our ancestors spent wandering through the desert. Fortunately, all it takes is a little forethought and creativity to keep the younger set from getting as jumpy as the frogs in Pharaoh’s bed at the big event. The following suggestions should help you plan a family-friendly Seder that promises to hold the attention of all kinds of kids — wise, wicked, simple and those just plain unable to ask.

Set the Stage
You’ll immediately pull children into the exodus experience by adding scenery to the seder. Drape sheets across the ceiling to give the table a tent-like feel, or pitch a freestanding Bedouin abode in the corner. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, ask guests to sport full Israelite attire. It’s amazing what can be done with some sheets, robes, pillowcases and towels.

Not Quite Ready for Primetime Seders
Set an early seder start time, thus keeping the evil Pharaohs lurking within your kids at bay a bit longer.

It’s in the Bag
Hand out goodie bags at the door to your most wiggly guests. Include Passover stickers, mini-books and kosher-for-Passover candies.

Open a Mini-Matzah Factory
Dig up a matzah recipe on the Internet and let kids have a go at baking the afikomen. The dry crumbly results may not be Manischevitz material, but they’ll leave your pint-sized bakers feeling more a part of Passover, and the extra dough can keep little hands occupied during the seder.

Serve Up Some Plagues
Scatter plastic frogs, beasts and insects (locusts) and other plague-related knick-knacks around the table.

Recline in Style
Help kids use fabric paint to decorate plain pillowcases with Passover related art. Since reclining is the name of the game during the seder, these meaningful creations will be put to good use.

Stretch the Festive Meal
Grumbling tummies are prime perpetrators of seder-night meltdowns. By serving the matzah ball soup upon arrival and offering up platters of carrot and celery sticks as karpas, you can squelch pre-festive meal kvetching faster than your kids can say, “Let my people go!”

Who Wants to be a Matzahnaire?
Passover is all about asking questions, but the big four are only the beginning. Keep kids excited and involved with the seder by intermittently morphing into a game show host. Be sure to award correct answers to holiday-themed questions with special Passover prizes.

Give a Taste of Slavery
Just as little heads are beginning to nod off, “discover” an envelope addressed to all the children at your seder table containing a letter from the Pharoh himself. Read the edict — commanding all children to begin building pyramids, immediately — aloud; pull out the blocks you stored under the table prior to the seder and let the enslavement begin.

Try a Change of Venue
Whether everyone moves to the living room to sing Passover songs or takes a walk outside to the pool to send a baby Moses doll off in a basket, a field trip away from the table during the course of the seder works miracles.

Chop It Up
It’s much more fun to eat a Hillel sandwich when you helped in making the charoset and maror. In my family, making horseradish sauce is an annual pre-seder event complete with Shlomo Carlbach music. Since only those old enough to safely handle a knife are allowed to participate, the kids consider it a virtual rite of passage.

Put a Spotlight on Stories
The true purpose of the seder is to pass the story of Exodus down from one generation to the next. But why stop there? Ask a few of your senior guests to come prepared to share a true and entertaining tale about their lives. When kids start to stray, pass a play microphone to one of these individuals. Their tales are sure to turn little heads back toward the seder table.

Finally, keep in mind that keeping children occupied during a seder is liable to take far more effort than simply bribing squirmy kids with chocolate-covered macaroons or sticking them with a teenage baby sitter in the playroom for the night. By taking the time to orchestrate a kid-friendly seder, you significantly up the odds that your fidgety children will one day do the same for your fidgety grandchildren.

Make Your Seder an Affair to Remember


Many Passover hostesses feel enslaved by the amount of effort that goes into making an elegant seder table. On the holiday of freedom, the only thing to which you should be enslaved is your creativity. By using your imagination and listening to the tried-and-true advice of the experts, you can create a stylish and sophisticated Passover seder that will have your guests wishing for another invitation next year.

The Setting
An unordinary setting can have a dramatic effect. Elie Neuman, program coordinator of Pesach with the Chevrah in Rancho Mirage, often has special requests to prepare private seder tables overlooking the hotel’s gardens.

“A beautiful backdrop transforms the seder’s look,” he said.

This year, weather permitting, think outside of your dining room and set up a seder table in your backyard. Hang Chinese lanterns and Christmas lights for a dazzling effect. Play with the lighting by positioning standing lamps from your living room at the ends of a long table, contrasting the look of the outdoors with a homey feel.

The Menu
With the kosher-for-Passover dietary restrictions, choosing a menu can be intimidating. Levana Kirschenbaum, cookbook author and cooking instructor known by her first name, suggests preparing dishes such as roasted asparagus, grilled fish, and seasonal soups you are certain will work.

Susie Fishbein, author of the “Kosher By Design” series (see story page 38), said that food should not prevent the hostess from enjoying the seder. “Instead of making seven different courses, prepare simple dishes that show you put in time and effort,” she said. “Don’t feel like you have to make meat, chicken and fish.”

The Centerpieces
Since the Passover table is generally crammed with wine bottles and glasses, the seder plate and boxes of matzah, centerpieces can be tricky.

“With everything on the table, you don’t want the flowers to be overpowering,” said Joel Katz of Prestige Catering, who caters Passover meals in hotels throughout Florida and upstate New York. Instead, he scatters small arrangements of flowers that add color to an already busy table.

Fishbein suggested using topiaries because they provide height without obstructing the view. Since topiaries do not die, only the fruits and flowers decorating them need to be replenished. “You can start by having white roses in the topiary for the seders and switch to lemons or strawberries for the end of the holiday,” Fishbein said.

Levana explains how every hostess can easily prepare a beautiful table within her budget. “Instead of making extravagant floral arrangements, I like to bring out specific colors and textures,” she said.

Levana recommended using a vibrant colored tablecloth with a patterned texture and choosing flowers within variations of two colors that contrast with the tablecloth. As long as the flowers are in the color scheme, inexpensive ones will do the trick.

During a recent demonstration at her Manhattan-based cooking school, Levana presented a stunning arrangement of four-dozen orange-red tulips assembled in a low vase. “No one will care if you use one type of flower, as long as you do a good job,” she said, noting that this arrangement only cost her $30.

Personal Touches
The personal touch is the main component that turns an average seder into an affair guests will remember long after the holiday is over. Throughout the year, Fishbein shops for special touches. One year she found stretchy plastic frogs to use as napkin holders while another year she found glass swizzle sticks with decorative frogs, which she placed in each goblet.

Neuman suggested placing individual seder plates at each setting. This way, guests have the essentials while additional plates of marror or charoset can be passed.

Neuman also recommended anticipating what guests will need ahead of time in order to make them feel comfortable. Besides providing a large selection of wine and matzah, find out if your guests have dietary restrictions. If a guest is allergic to wheat, special order spelt or oat matzah.

Creative place cards that double as mementoes will further personalize the table. By cutting cardboard strips; gluing fabric, ribbon and beads; and labeling them with each guest’s name, you can create individual bookmarks. Place the bookmarks in a haggadah at every place setting in order for guests to know where they are sitting.

Bringing It All Together
Levana and Fishbein both stress the necessity of the hostess feeling relaxed on the night of the seder. That way the hostess can join in the seder, and with everyone else, celebrate our people’s freedom.

Felisa Billet, a freelance writer from Forest Hills, N.Y., is at work on a cookbook, a fusion of Mexican and Jewish cuisine.


Hail to the Seder Chief


I can just imagine my Orthodox grandparents worrying about making the seder come alive for their grandchildren. Grandma was too busy de-feathering chickens and grandpa taking care of business in his violin shop to think about how we might be kept happy at their seder table. Entertainment and seder would never have been uttered in the same sentence in their Bronx home behind the H. Bass Music store.

But I am different. I have the time and the energy to make our seder a swirling, interactive event for my four grandchildren. Why, they can even dip their little feet into my cellophane Red Sea as it parts on my living room floor.

And, to top it off, I am the maven of plague bags. When the kids were very little, the bags were little. The first years they were small, white paper bags with simple black lettering. Simple items went into them: frogs that I had made out of green paper, 99 Cent Store kid’s sunglasses for darkness, wrapping bubbles that popped like boils and small plastic cups colored with red markers to signify the blood.

No grandchild would ever sit tired and glassy eyed just waiting and praying for the meal. We would go through the entire hagaddah, but with enough diversions to allow them to stay ‘with us’ without having a grand melt down before the first course.

In 2003, I went big time. I bought small canvas bags for 99 cents each but then had them machine embroidered by my dressmaker friend Liz. Each child’s name was written in a different font and color. She attached ribbon fringe with multicolored beads to the bags. Creativity and hopes of keeping their attention and in the process teaching them the significance of the seder meal was my goal. And now, my friends were getting involved as well.

Last year, we had our bags, we had our green gummy frogs, we had our boils and our blood. When it came to talk about darkness, I turned out all the lights and each person at the table talked about what darkness meant to them. The kids said bedtime and a few of the adults joked about sex.

But everything seems to pale in comparison to my hail. Now, you have to understand that the previous years’ hail was quite adequate. Small rolled up pieces of silver foil did the trick and could be playfully tossed around the table. But, a few weeks before Passover, I had read in The New York Times about a grandfather (surely he did not own a violin-making store) who also tries to engage his young grandchildren at seder time. During the day, the article said, this man secretly and gently places minimarshmallows on top of the blades of his wooden ceiling fan. My eyes lit up. This would be a real crowd pleaser. When the fan was turned on, the little white pseudo-hail would fly around the room, just like the real thing as all would watch, wide-eyed.

I had a ceiling fan. I would buy the tiny puffs and we too would have our authentic San Fernando Valley hail. Surely the kids and the grown-ups would stand in awe of this my most fabulous creation to date.

Everyone followed me from the table as we marched to my computer room where the fan was silently waiting with its marshmallow topping. One of the kids turned on the fan and as predicted, the tiny white confections started flying. Up, down and on the ground. I waited, if not for deafening applause, at least oohs and ahs from my adoring fans.

Here is what really happened. They looked; some may have even thought, “Wow, that was great!” At least I hoped they did. But no one said much and if they did, it was lost in the shuffling of feet as they scurried back to the seder table.

The marshmallows. I was too tired to even think of cleaning them up that night or even asking for help. We did get a few up, but that was because they had stuck to the bottom of shoes and kept sticking us down as we walked.

The marshmallows a week later? Many still remained where the fan had dutifully blown them the night of our seder. Many more hardened where they lay but I learned to walk gingerly among them. As the days melted into weeks, they began to harden. A friend said, “If you leave them on the floor long enough, next year they will really feel like hail.” She was on to something. My ever creative mind clicked in and I answered:

“Yes, and the kids could wear woolen hats and mufflers and maybe even ski clothing.”

When I started to think about erecting a miniature ski lift next to the pool, I knew, that even for me, that would be going over the edge.

Maybe my grandparents back in the Bronx had the right idea after all.

Barbara Joan Grubman is a retired speech specialist and author of “Introduction to terrariums: A step-by-step guide” (Nash Pub, 1972) She lives in Woodland Hills.


Getting Married? Get ‘Creative’


“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book, a Hands-On Guide to New & Old Traditions, Ceremonies & Celebrations” by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer (Jewish Lights Publishing, $19.99).

Synagogue or sailboat? Bride and groom or same sex? Orthodox or interfaith?

Whatever your leanings, if you want a Jewish element to your wedding or commitment ceremony, have I got a book for you!

“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer helps couples tap into their creativity and design the wedding that really suits them. Kaplan-Mayer inspires readers to honor their own comfort level of style, taste, emotional and financial resources and Jewish observance.

How do you and your partner begin to decide whether to have a ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract) in gender-neutral language, or in the 2,000-year-old traditional text? Or, what if you’ve never even heard of a ketubah?

What if your life partner, like Kaplan-Mayer’s husband, is rooted culturally in Judaism and spiritually in Buddhism?

Or, perhaps of lesser import, but also problematic, are klezmer and Motown mutually exclusive forms of entertainment?

Where should you compromise, and when do you stand firm?

Kaplan-Mayer acknowledges the infinite range of her readers’ situations and then, amazingly, finds a common ground to respectfully guide them through the planning and personalizing of their Jewish wedding.

After her engaging introduction and general orientation, Kaplan-Mayer presents a step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter process for making choices about a wedding. With logic, intuition, inclusiveness and savvy, she demystifies this intimidating concept for her readers.

Each chapter deals with a particular custom or ritual in three ways:

First, down-to-earth explanations and translations from Hebrew establish a baseline grasp of the custom or ritual for the couple.

Second, a series of thought-provoking questions seeks to instill in the couple a strong sense of themselves before they consider their options. While the author embraces incorporating the expectations of family and friends into the wedding, she wants the couple to have a firm grasp of their own boundaries before they start to consider pleasing others.

Third, the chapters’ themes are illustrated through the author’s personal examples and other couples’ stories.

“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” offers techniques for crafting everything from the chuppah to the gift bags for out-of-town guests. It encourages exploring every angle of the wedding ceremony from the music to the level of spirituality. It recognizes facing squarely the inevitable challenges in the planning process. It continually reminds the reader to remain joyfully centered around the big picture and the future.

The appendices alone contain a wealth of information, particularly for unaffiliated couples.

Appendix I, “Books and Online Resources,” leaves no stone unturned with Web sites and books on: weddings, invitations, ketubah artists, Judaica, music, interfaith resources, Israeli products and much more.

Appendix II, “Wedding Planning,” has three sections: a one-year organizational timeline with each countdown division subtitled, including Jewish issues, creative planning and practical concerns. There’s a wedding task checklist and even instructions for developing a wedding Web site.

Appendix III covers alternative Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings).

Kaplan-Mayer states early on that “The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” is intended to be a “secondary resource,” and she refers the reader to other books for more intensive study of the historical meanings of Jewish wedding customs and rituals.

But a deeper understanding of Judaism doesn’t appear necessary to make fine use of the book. Inclusive and current to the max, “The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” seems to stand on its own as an invaluable planning mechanism for just about any two people intending to share a life together.


In Search of ‘Shlomi’

Shlomi, the 16-year-old protagonist of the Israeli film, “Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi,” has his hands full.

He cooks the family meals, cleans up, does the laundry, is the peacemaker in his quarrelsome Moroccan family and bathes his grandfather, who greets him every morning with the film’s title.

For his pains, the wide-eyed Shlomi is considered none too bright by his family and in school, where he is flunking out.

Worse, Shlomi believes the outside world’s assessment of him, which seems to be confirmed by his first attempt at romance. When he suggests to his girlfriend that they “upgrade” their relationship — Hebrew slang for having sex — she “freezes” him out.

At home, the situation is even worse. His obsessive mother has kicked out her hypochondriac husband for a one-time slip with her best friend. Shlomi’s older brother is the mother’s favorite, and she regales the boy with clinical details of his real and fancied sexual conquests.

Shlomi’s older sister has twin babies but regularly returns to her mother’s home to detail her fights with her husband, who shamefully surfs the Internet for porn.

It all looks like another story of another dysfunctional family, a recurring theme in Israeli movies, when Shlomi’s life slowly turns around.

A perceptive teacher and school principal gradually peel away Shlomi’s layers of self-doubt and discover an exceptional mind and poetic sensibility.

A neighboring girl recognizes Shlomi’s real inner worth, and in a beautiful scene they shyly offer each other their finest gifts — she, the herbs she grows in her garden, and he, the diet-defying cakes he bakes in the kitchen.

The film’s theme is “the pain created by the gap between one’s outer image and the inner truth,” said Shemi Zarhin, the film’s director, himself of North African descent.

“Monsieur Shlomi” is a charming film, a word rarely applied to Israeli movies. Oshri Cohen portrays Shlomi with absolute veracity and his relationship with his grandfather (Arie Elias) is deeply affecting.

As a special bonus, Ashkenazic viewers will get a much-needed insight into the lifestyle of Israel’s Sephardic Jews. Although director Zarhin’s ancestors came to Palestine nearly 300 years ago, “both I and Oshri grew up with the mindset that we were part of Israel’s underclass,” he said.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi” opens July 16 in Los Angeles.

Two Educators Earn Honors

Barry Koff, who integrates technology and art into his religious school lesson plans, is a recipient of this year’s Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.

Joanne Mercer, retiring director of education at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm, suggested Koff be considered for national recognition by the Jewish Education Service of North America and the local Bureau of Jewish Education.

Another winner from Orange County this year is Limor Barkol, a Hebrew teacher at Morasha Jewish Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita and Westminster’s Temple Beth David.

"I have had the fortune of studying with many of Orange County’s wealth of rabbis and educators, including my mentor, Rabbi Bernie King," Koff said, referring to the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’a lot. "King says that ‘everyone we meet is our teacher,’ so I suppose I come by my Jewish knowledge through my family, friends and strangers."

Koff earned a state teaching credential and completed a master’s degree in Jewish education through Chicago’s Spertus College. Yet his first career as an on-air radio broadcaster comes through in his classroom. During three years at Bat Yaym, Koff encouraged use of student-made video documentaries about Jewish genealogy and music videos about historic Jewish personalities.

"I try to bring whatever creativity I can to allow students to express themselves and their Jewish identity," Koff said.

His assignment is seventh-grade Judaic studies and middle-schoolers preparing to become confirmands.

He previously served as education director at Shir Ha-Ma’a lot, where he started, wrote and produced full-length Jewish-themed musicals for the Not Ready for Orthodox Players children’s theater.

Koff, 46, and his wife, Ann, live in Dana Point with 10-year-old twins, Jonathan and Shoshana. Koff currently is a full-time home-school teacher for his children.

The award recognizes 50 outstanding Jewish educators annually. They each receive $2,500 toward funding professional development.

Koff intends to use the prize money for a summer study program in Israel.

The Circuit

Film Fest Fun

The succession of subtitles onscreen was riveting and jarring: “The biggest singer in France is Israeli…. Mike Brant looked relaxed and beautiful, except his head was lying in a pool of blood.”

The text flashed across the screen during a teaser for “Mike Brant: Laisse Moi T’aimer,” an Israeli documentary exploring the stormy, short-lived starburst of Brant, an Israeli singer who didn’t even speak fluent French when he took France by storm with his pop hits in the early 1970s. By 1975, at age 28, he fell to his death from the sixth floor of his Paris apartment building in an apparent suicide.

“Mike Brant,” an Israeli 2003 Cannes entry, was one of more than two-dozen cinematic offerings at the 19th Israel Film Festival, a film anthology spotlighting the latest crop of feature-film fiction and documentaries coming out of Israel.

Erez Laufer, director of “Mike Brant,” was one of the honorees at the opening-night gala, held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Laufer, during his acceptance speech for the Cinematic Award, told the audience that he was pleased to be at Cannes 33 years to the date of Brant’s first performance on a French TV show.

Israeli filmmakers were, naturally, the focus of the fete, but they weren’t the only ones being honored on opening night. The festival also saluted a couple of local yokels who are doing all right for themselves. Richard Riordan, former L.A. mayor and prospective newspaper publisher, introduced Humanitarian Award-recipient Larry King. Marvel Entertainment’s Avi Arad presented the Visionary Award to Laura Ziskin.

Ziskin, who previously had a hand in “Pretty Woman” and “Fight Club,” said, “I work under the motto that movies aren’t made. They’re forced into existence.”

Meir Fenigstein, festival founder and executive director, shared his incredulity over his event reaching the big 19. He spoke highly of the “challenge bringing the unique films and creativity of Israeli filmmakers to the U.S.A.”

“The festival allows us to see Israel without the politics,” said Kobi Oshrat, the Israel Consulate’s cultural attaché. “It shows what Israeli society is all about.”

This year’s festival, which runs through June 8, highlights films like “Slaves of the Lord,” another Cannes entry; and festival opener “All I’ve Got,” a macabre romantic comedy written and directed by Keren Margalit, which was screened at the gala opening and underscored the special “Reflections of Women” category.

Following the screening of “All I’ve Got,” The Circuit chatted with Ronit Reichman, a Tel Aviv University graduate and the producer of “Under Water,” who is in the process of relocating her Tamuz Productions to Los Angeles, where she will produce a three-part documentary on Islamic terrorism. The Circuit also caught up with Laufer, also a Tel Aviv University alum.

“In France, there’s a big ’70s revival right now, so people were ready for this film,” Laufer said of his Cannes reception. For Laufer, chronicling the life of the late Brant was “a journey to try and piece it together from what people say, from archive footage. You try to find the person.”

Also in attendance: L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; “Wisdom of the Pretzel” producer Shai Werker-Option; “In the Ninth Month” writer-director Ali Nassar and star Nissrin Faour; “Return From India” producer Evgeny Afineevsky; “Local Hero in Jerusalem Beach” director Natali Eskinazim; David Lipkind, Israel Film Fund executive director; Meital Dohan, star of “God’s Sandbox,” and the film’s producer, Yoav Halevy; and Arthur Hiller, director of the original “The In-Laws,” who — with Arnon Milchan, Mike Medavoy, Michael Fuchs, Peter Chernin, Sumner Redstone, Sherry Lansing, Ron Meyer, Joe Roth, Terry Semel, Haim Saban, Steven Spielberg, Ted Turner and Jack Valenti — comprised the impressive roster of honorary chairs and co-chairs for 2003’s Festival.

For more information on the 19th Israel Film Festival, call (877) 966-5566 or visit .

Supporting Israel

In a display of creativity and generosity, several Jewish groups in Orange County in

recent weeks set out to demonstrate their unswerving support for Israel.

Calling a suggestion by Israel’s minister of tourism to visit hospitals a “wet blanket,” Fullerton travel agency owner Pnina Schichor instead lined up an awareness-raising tour of the sort she, herself, would like.

“Injured people don’t want gawking strangers,” she concludes after returning in May from a planning trip, during which she sensed the isolation of Israeli citizens. “I want them to know we’re standing with them,” says Shichor, who organized a trip for members of MERIT, Middle Eastern Reporting in Truth, a media-watch group she and her husband, David, co-founded last August.

Billed the MERIT Interfaith Solidarity Tour, it includes Haim Asa, rabbi emeritus of Fullerton’s Temple Beth Tikvah, and Pastor Garry Ansdell of Bellflower’s Calvary Chapel, along with 20 others scheduled to depart July 18 on the $1,795, eight-day trip. The itinerary includes working as volunteers at a military facility, visiting a Jewish-Arab cultural center, seeing Galilee’s water conservation and wetlands restoration projects, touring a Druse village and holding a rally outside a foreign embassy.

The high point of the trip, for Schichor at least, will be a hoped-for reunion with Jaber Abirukin, education director of Isifyia, a Druse village. The Druse, expected to join the Israeli military, are an ancient Muslim sect that broke away from Islam.

During the 1987 intifada, Abirukin spoke to students on California campuses roiled by unrest over the conflict. He was escorted by Schichor’s son, Nadar, a member of the American Zionist Youth Federation.

“He could see from both sides,” recalls Schichor, who remembers Abirukin’s spellbinding affect on an audience. “Israelis were sitting with their mouths open,” she says.

Abirukin’s sobering conclusion was remarkably prescient. “The shocking thing I got out of it,” Schichor recalls, “was if you’re looking for peace immediately, you’ll have to be steadfast; if you’re going to be impatient, you’re going to lose.”

“We’re learning it now,” Schichor says. “There’s no quick fix.”

Just a few weeks earlier, another contingent of nine residents went to Israel and were privileged to spend an hour asking questions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as attending other top-level political and military briefings organized by the American Jewish Committee.

“I find it personally embarrassing having a pilot thank me for coming to Israel on a tourist trip,” says Irvine’s E. Scott Menter, a member of the 100-person delegation. Even so, he saw the group’s impact in empty shops. “I had one guy turn the lights on for me. No one had been there all day,” says Menter, who took home more tchotchkes than he wanted.

Forty other local residents in May pledged $150,000 to Israel road construction. The effort is part of a $10 million commitment by Israel’s Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (JNF) to construct secondary “security” roads and repair others destroyed by tanks.

The 2.5 miles funded by the JNF’s Orange-Long Beach region parallels the Har Adir-Sasa Road, says Gail W. Weiss, the group’s regional director. In March, six Israelis were killed and seven wounded on the main road when passing cars were fired on from Lebanon. “We’re 75 percent of the way to reaching our goal,” she says.

Since May, members of Irvine’s University Synagogue have contributed $25,000 toward purchasing a $60,000 ambulance for American Red Magen David, the Santa Monica-based support group for Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross.

The vehicle will bear the congregation’s name. “An ambulance saves lives,” says Henry Wyle of Irvine, chair of the project. “It’s a symbol of values Jews place on life.”

The computer lab in Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet religious school typically hums with students studying Torah on CDs. Recently, students took time out to write 30 e-mail letters to Israeli soldiers, says Margalit Moskowitz, Beth Emet’s education director. (

While none of the students received replies, Moskowitz says the process alone is valuable. “The most important thing was the children felt connected, that they are contributing something to Israel. It’s so hard to have a connection, to create a link.

She says, “I think the letter helped achieve it.”

Art of Summer

Max and Jesse Glaser come from a home where the fine arts are highly valued. Their father, Sam Glaser, is a well-known Jewish musician, and as their mother, Marcia, says, “We have a lot of artistic muses in our family.” But because Max and Jesse are being educated in Orthodox yeshivas, where creative self-expression often takes a backseat to intensive academic study, they have had little opportunity to pursue the arts during their school years.

So when Marcia heard of an Orthodox summer camp that offered music and art, “we jumped at it,” she says.

Camp Ruach, also known as the Los Angeles Jewish Camp for Music and the Arts, debuted this summer on the grounds of Yeshivath Ohr Eliyahu Day School in Culver City. The camp runs five days a week through Aug. 7.

An introductory program, conducted by experts in early childhood arts education, Ruach caters to boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 6. There is also a sophisticated music and art curriculum tailored to boys through eighth grade. (The administrators hope to establish a girls’ camp at a separate facility in the future.)

Campers begin their mornings with prayer and Torah study, and enjoy outdoor activities led by an experienced sports coach. But the heart of each day is devoted to the arts: the boys receive small-group instruction from professional musicians on a wide range of instruments, or they can explore ceramics, calligraphy, woodwork, acrylics, pastels and other media. An alumnus from the Groundlings comedy school in Los Angeles teaches improv. Also on staff are a photographer and an animator who worked on Disney’s “Tarzan” and “Hercules.”

Camp Ruach’s founder, Rabbi Dovid Sudaley, is a member of the Ohr Eliyahu faculty, and serves as youth director at Anshe Emes Synagogue in Los Angeles, the camp’s sponsoring organization. Sudaley is also a trained musician who studied at Juilliard and worked as an off-Broadway composer before seriously embracing Judaism.

Great care has been taken, in material sent to the parents of the 100 children currently enrolled, to spell out rules of conduct that are consistent with traditional Orthodox values. For instance, youngsters are cautioned not to discuss Pokémon or television programs while at camp.

The camp choir will probably build its repertoire from Hebrew songs, but participants are free to experience a wide range of musical compositions. Nor is the entire teaching staff Jewish, such as Washington Rucker, a well-established African American drummer who often demonstrates jazz in public schools.

Rucker, who first met Sudaley at a musical gig, has high respect for his musicianship. Although he has never before tried teaching Orthodox Jewish children, Rucker believes that music transcends all ethnic boundaries. He says he and the children will learn from one another. “I think it’s important that people come together — and if music can be the conduit, so be it,” he adds.

For more information, call (310) 284-8831 or contact

Two In Brief

On July 18, 1947, Dr. Ruth Gruber stood on a wharf in Haifa and watched the battered ship Exodus inch into the harbor. The ship had been rammed by British warships determined to keep the 4,554 Holocaust survivors aboard from reaching Palestine.

Previously, Gruber was the only journalist allowed to enter the Soviet Arctic; now she was the only American journalist who followed the Exodus passengers as they were transferred to British prison ships and sent back to Europe. An updated edition of her classic 1948 book on the drama is now in bookstores, retitled “Exodus 1947: The Ship That Launched a Nation” (Times Books $25).

It wasn’t the first time that Gruber had worked with refugees. In 1944, then-Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes assigned her a secret mission: She was to travel to Italy to bring 1,000 refugees through Nazi-infested waters to safe haven in Oswego, NY. Her subsequent book, “Haven: The Unknown Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees” is the subject of a new musical play, “Oswego,” which will have a staged musical reading at People of the Book, The Jewish Book Festival Nov. 15, 7:30 p.m. at the West Valley JCC. Gruber, now 88, will be on hand for a panel discussion after the event, sponsored by the Jewish Center for Culture and Creativity.

On Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m. at the Valley Cities JCC, author Susan Dworkin will discuss her book, “The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust.” The tome tells of Viennese Jew Edith Hahn Beer, who romanced a Nazi party member during the war. He married her, despite her confession that she was Jewish, and kept her identity secret.

For information about the Gruber and Dworkin events, call (818) 464-3300.